Dozens of villagers formed a line yesterday to guard a rural leader's recreational park in Yuen Long where illegal structures were found - but they dispersed without any confrontation as lands officers moved in to deal with the problem.
Leung Fuk-yuen, one of two directors of a company running the park, denied staging the gathering of villagers.
Leung had earlier removed most of the structures, including a toilet, a pavilion and some stone chairs, ahead of an April 28 government deadline, but he insisted on keeping a suspension bridge and the fences and shelters of a zoo.
'People need the bridge to cross a river safely,' he said. 'The rainy season is coming and people may get washed away.' There are two cement bridges next to the suspension one.
The Lands Department took action after being criticised over the 12,000 square-metre park, called Tai Tong Lychee Valley, occupying 5,000 square metres of government land illegally for 18 years.
The department said the park owner had removed 11 structures on unleased government land within Tai Lam Country Park, but an office, a playground, three animal sheds and the bridge remained.
Yesterday morning, villagers and several park staff members guarded the entrance, with some saying they would 'fight till the end'.
Lands officers, contractors' workers and police officers waited outside. Leung, who is also chairman of Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee, arrived before noon and left shortly afterwards. The villagers also left.
Lands officers and workers then entered without any resistance. They closed the suspension bridge and dug up some tiles on a walkway.
Animals in the zoo - home to a few emus, lambs and rabbits - stayed put, although some of the emus had large balding patches and the rabbits had grubby paws. Melons were growing in a playground area.
Leung said he had hoped to develop the park for ecotourism, as a local business contributing to society. 'It is a tourism business managed with conscience,' he said.
A worker at the park for 10 years said he was worried they would lose their jobs if the park closed.
Leung, a Yuen Long district councillor and key member of the Heung Yee Kuk rural affairs body, has been a vocal opponent of the government's crackdown on illegal structures in New Territories' village houses.
Lee Pak-wai, a representative of Sheung Yau Tin indigenous villagers in Yuen Long, quoted a saying: 'The bird that pokes his head out gets killed.'
Lee said: 'Don't you think it is because of Leung's objection on this issue that the government is here today to deal with his lychee garden?'